UE members - and working people across the country - awoke to a newpolitical landscape on November 5. The conservative, wealthy-firstagenda of George Bush and John McCain was soundly repudiated, our firstAfrican American president was elected and voters, turning out innumbers not seen in 100 years, also turned out of office manyanti-worker members of Congress.
There was and is much to celebrate, not the least being the fact thatAmerican voters moved beyond centuries of racial division to chooseSenator Barack Obama as the country's leader. UE activists from anumber of locals proudly walked their neighborhoods and worked thephones in this historic presidential campaign. Deserving particularmention is the work of members of Local 506 in Erie, Pennsylvania - whovoted to give their local's endorsement to Obama - and of Local 150 inNorth Carolina. Those members reaped added dividends for theiractivism, winning the defeat of anti-union incumbents Rep. Phil English(R-PA) and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC).
UE members elected to office in two states
UE members can also celebrate the election of two of our own. In Vermont Bob South, president of Local 234 and a trustee of the national union, defied the odds and won election to the state legislature in a district long dominated by the Republican Party. In Iowa, UE Local 893-IUP member Ray Zirkelbach won re-election to his Iowa state house seat with a 65 percent of the vote.
Yes, there is much to celebrate. But there is much to be done. The national election outcome in itself will not solve the problems afflicting the working class. Rather, it provides us some much-needed breathing space - a break from the unrelenting attacks of the past eight years - and new opportunities to bring forward workers' issues. But it remains up to us to do that, and to hold the new president and Congress accountable. UE's seven decades of experience tells us that these elected leaders - like others before them - will need to be pushed by grassroots activism to bring meaningful change.
But there's a lot of work ahead ...
In 1932, three years into the Great Depression and fed up with an uncaring Republican administration, voters delivered a mandate for change to Franklin Roosevelt - the president whose progressive New Deal program made a difference for workers. But Roosevelt didn't run in 1932 on a New Deal platform; instead, he promised a balanced budget. Mass movements of workers, the unemployed, senior citizens and farmers pushed Roosevelt and Congress to establish Social Security, a massive public works program, and a national framework for collective bargaining.
For older African American workers, Obama's victory is especially sweet - the fruit of decades of struggle for full citizenship. In Obama's election night speech, he appropriately acknowledged the older generations on whose shoulders he stands, by speaking of 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper of Atlanta - and by borrowing phrases from Martin Luther King's "Mountaintop" speech and the Sam Cooke song "A Change is Gonna Come." The victories of the 1960s, too, were the results of mass action by working people. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson may have been sympathetic, but the civil rights laws would never have been passed without hundreds of thousands of people who marched, boycotted, and risked their lives for change.
... starting with restoring our rights
Where do we begin? We should start with the issue of workers' rights - restoring the right to organize and bargain. Demanding passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is an important first step, because allowing millions of workers to organize into unions will give them the power to demand the other changes we need. And major changes are needed in healthcare, trade, retirement, economic reconstruction and putting an end to a foreign policy of war and aggression.
President-elect Obama offers us reason to believe that, if we fight for change, he will be receptive to our demands. At a rally of over 100,000 in Northwest Indiana, in the closing days of the campaign, Obama spoke out against the Bush administration's terrible workers' rights record. He specifically mentioned one of UE's toughest ongoing battles, at Arc Bridges in Gary, IN, where, he said, "workers have been fighting for a first contract for over two years."
Pens, picket signs and a united voice ...
President-elect Obama and his congressional colleagues have received a mandate to reverse the corporate agenda that has impoverished the many to enrich a few. But we must keep reminding them of that mandate, because if we don't, the corporate lobbyists and power-brokers will reassert their influence and, as they've done time and time again, undermine the democratic will of the people.
Keep your pens in hand and your picket signs handy. We've still got work to do.
John H. Hovis
UE General President
Bruce J. Klipple
UE General Secretary-Treasurer
Robert B. Kingsley
UE Director of Organization